Once upon a time I had a crisis of faith and it rocked everything I’d believed in to that point. For a time, I was atheist. It was rational. It was safe.
I was unhappy.
I have atheist friends and they’re just fine. This is not to judge them. Their shoes don’t fit my feet and that’s as it should be. It wasn’t for me. I started again at the most basic place: does God exist?
What an adventure!
I can’t reason my way to God. I knew that already because that kind of thing had led to my loss of faith. Faith is a matter of heart, of spirit, not reason. For me, though, it’s really important that faith work alongside reason; it doesn’t work when they are at war.
I had to probe my feelings for the answers. And I had to accept something about truth – truth for me may not be truth for another person. For this endeavor there was no point in trying to find one all-encompassing objective truth. That acceptance took many, many years, and it didn’t fully blossom until the Easter vision, which changed everything.
Up to that point, I had gradually probed my spiritual innards to find the feeling that God did indeed exist and that if this being didn’t directly create the Universe, They at the very least created Nature, who took it from there. I had a strong feeling that the energy of Life had something to do with God, that revering life is A Good Thing, while denigrating life is A Bad Thing.
However, because bad things happen, because there is some direct cause and effect in our lives but there’s also random misery and dumb chance, I couldn’t see how God might be personally involved in our affairs. Either God was a non-sentient life energy or an inventor who had walked off from the invention. I had a hard time thinking of God as, in the words of someone dear to me, an “abusive parent” – making us suffer horrible things to teach us something.
There was, looking back now, a God-shaped hole in my life and I at least recognized the yearning as spiritual. I began to study religions to find something that would fit. Islam was highly attractive, as there is complete focus on God as benevolent giver of life. I studied much and meditated much on what I found. But I had a hard time conceiving of a Higher Power who required a lot of praise. It didn’t fit within my forming inner concept of who my perception of God was.
Nowadays, I understand prayer differently than I used to, and I could probably now get behind five-times-a-day prayer a lot better than I could then. I understand a bit more about who prayer is really for and some of the ways it works.
I fell completely for Judaism. Here was a theology that’s quite light on the doctrine and heavy on tradition. Not to say there’s no academic stuff – there’s huge amounts of academic stuff, but very little focus on the hereafter and how to get to the right location therein. I like the Judaic mode of prayer. I like the focus on knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. I like the aspect of community, of shared heritage, of a story of “us” that folds all the members in.
A drawback is that you have to become “us” to get folded in. In Orthodox tradition, it is customary to turn away prospective converts a few times to make sure they’re completely serious. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was a cold shoulder when my family relocated to another region of the States and began attending local Reform synagogues. There was a bit of surface greeting, but none of the warmth and interest we’d found in Monterey. They would tolerate our presence, but they wouldn’t accept us.
I should mention that by that time, I was in the process of conversion. I had been married (to a supportive non-Jewish partner) in the Jewish tradition and we planned to raise our children as Jews. But this development, our failure to find a spiritual home, led to disappointment and the dashing of our plans. It was crushing.
Over time, several unrelated friends in different places mentioned to me the Unitarian Universalists. Here was a denomination open and broad enough to include anyone, whose very core was about the sort of spiritual quest I was on. My then-spouse and I attended some services and felt right at home.
More about what UUs are, do, and believe are available at the UUA website, but here’s the core:
There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
- Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
So within this fellowship I began to investigate spiritual beliefs and practices even more, becoming more anxious as I didn’t find any one answer that would satisfy me. And then came the night before Easter, 2000.
I was keeping vigil with someone dear to me at a tiny Episcopal church, praying and pondering and agonizing, when I entered a peculiar state of mind not too different from intoxication. It was as though my vision zoomed out and out and out, further and further, encompassing more and more of life, of creation, of All That Is, and I saw that it was what I inadequately think of as God. It was a profound and euphoric moment. It changed me forever.
- That God is a Universal Consciousness.
- That we living creatures came from that Consciousness.
- That we are in fact still members of that Consciousness, not completely individual.
- That when we die, we return fully to that Consciousness.
- That some or all of a part of the Consciousness that had spent time as an individual may get the chance to do it again, perhaps even several times.
- That the Universal Consciousness is complex beyond the understanding of human beings; that parts or areas of the Consciousness differ greatly. Because of this complexity, there is room for all faiths, ways for all beings to reach out and connect.
- That all life is part of this Life and therefore deserving of dignity and respect.
- That God is Love.
- Therefore we are love. If we choose to be our fullest selves, we’ll be love.
- Because of this infinite complexity, it is completely possible for God to look after the Universe (which is God’s own Self anyway) and be intimately interested in the details of my life (which is also God’s own Self). And God does this for you too.
An analogy of the complexity and universality of God is what we understand about fractals. If I look at a fractal image, generally I notice not only that the same pattern (love?) undergoes infinite recursion, but that in doing so, areas of the whole begin to differ hugely, probably infinitely. If I think of God this way, the area that is optimal for Muslim faith would appear wildly different from the area that is optimal for Aztec faith, but might bear a few similarities to the area that is optimal for Jewish faith, and so on. For every concept of God, God is there, and God is still one, because one is all.
My understanding is not complete and probably never will be. A few of the things I don’t get:
- The role of mythology/religion; why we need multiple deities with so many stories. Including Jesus. The Jesus thing is big in my native culture, so this causes some dissonance.
- The business of non-living matter and whether it’s also part of God. I figure it probably is, but that’s a hard concept to engulf.
- The role of evil in existence. I don’t personify Satan, but I don’t deny the existence of evil.
I could go on, but there’s my basic personal theology and how I came by it. I seek now to discover my place in it and I adopt practices that help me develop harmony with my Higher Power, whom I choose to call God. And of Whom I am a part.